My graduation and then off to Rio for the ITU World Olympic Qualification Event

Friday morning – one week and two days to the Rio test event – graduation day! I’d been looking forward to and working towards this day for such a long time that it didn’t feel real now that it was finally here. After a quick swim it was time to get changed and get ready. My entire family came and it was great to have them around and share the day with me. After a 1.5h ceremony in Latin it was finally time to put on those Master of Mathematics hoods and the mortarboard (which we had to carry to every single examination in the four years in Oxford and then we were finally allowed to put them on for the very first time). Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and lots of rain meant not so many Graduation photos outside, but nonetheless it was a great day which I will surely not forget anytime soon.

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And then it was finally time to head to Rio de Janeiro! You’ve heard the word “Rio” repeated so many time, have answered so many questions about what “Rio” means to you, have dreamt about “Rio” and being allowed to race there – and now it was finally time to meet that town face to face for the first time! Only two “short” flights separating me from it. But luck didn’t like me that day and after a 1.5h delayed flight to Frankfurt there was no way to get anywhere any more that night. So off to a hotel I went, without my bags. The next morning I woke up and wasn’t quite sure where I was… then it dawned upon me that I would have to spend the day trying to do some training (without my suitcases) and then catch the next flight in the evening. Luckily everyone from the German Triathlon Union was amazingly helpful in trying to make the day as enjoyable and easy as possible for me. After a little shopping trip at the airport (all other shops are closed on a Sunday in Germany) I had a bikini to swim in, and something to run in – and with the help of Matthias Zoell even a 50m pool to swim in! So far so good. The direct flight to Rio, however, was full, and despite the best efforts from the German Triathlon Union and their travel agency I had no choice but to fly via Sao Paulo. But I was glad when I finally got on that plane to Brazil and arrived many hours later in our hotel about 200k outside of Rio.

The next few days were spent training, eating and sleeping. The sea was beautiful to swim in there (and one day we even saw big beautiful crabs and a sea turtle when out swimming!) and the nature around the place was also simply stunning – I was starting to like this country! But my “bad luck” hadn’t ended after the flight and I managed to crash one morning because my front wheel got stuck in a drain… luckily our teams medic and physio were there to put me back together and get me “up and running” again. My god I was so annoyed with myself after! There was always the thought of THAT race in everyone’s mind and that is all everyone was waiting for. So I think we were all a bit relieved when we finally got on the bus to head to RIO on Thursday.

The city is very impressive and the amount of green even in the centre of town is stunning. Recent news articles about the water quality (and the disgusting smell outside when we were driving over rivers on our way into the town) kept us wondering whether we would still be fit after going into that water. For that reason a few others and I decided to use the swim familiarisation as a “waver familiarisation” and do the swimming bit in the pool beforehand. And as life wanted my “lucky streak” continued: someone tried to rip our coaches gold necklace off his neck on the way to swimming. Everything happened so quickly that no one really remembers what happened exactly, but the necklace fell down Dan’s top and after mine and the guys eyes met he decided to hit me on the back of my head, so me and Rebecca decided to run – and we didn’t stop until the others shouted at us to stop from behind. What an exciting way to start off our first day in Rio. Needless to say, my legs were still shaking when we got to the pool… but for some reason it wasn’t anger I felt. The guy looked genuinely scared and frustrated – and looking around at the number of people (including families with little kids!) having to sleep on the road because they have nothing – I was almost starting to feel sorry for the guy.

But that was it with exciting events happening until race day. I have to admit after riding the bike course the day before the race I was slightly apprehensive of the hill (or shall we say “wall”?) on the course and that together with it being the Olympic test event, I actually stood at the start line a bit more nervous than I usually am. I got into the water well, but then a group formed on the left of me and one on the right of me and I was a little bit “lost in the middle”. I’m still not entirely sure about what happened during the swim, I didn’t think I was swimming that badly and I ended up getting out of the water with a few girls that usually always end up in the front pack – but it turns out we were almost 30s behind the front pack! On the bike our pack quickly formed, but we were still losing time to the leaders on every lap – however on the more positive side I got up the hill a lot better than I had feared and it was actually almost enjoyable at times! But after a few laps my stomach felt a little weird – had I taken on enough energy? Turns out I was probably just dehydrated – and it got even worse on the run, but I can’t drink enough water while running without getting a stich. When I crossed the finish line I was feeling dizzy and emptied a few bottles of water before I was starting to feel more normal again – but it took me until in the late afternoon to feel completely normal again. Yes, there was disappointment and I wasn’t happy with the result or my run time and I was slightly angry with myself for making the mistake of not taking enough water with me. But then again, my running technique and stride length was feeling a lot better than it did in Hamburg again! And the swim… from having spoken to coaches and other athletes my pack must have just taken a slight detour which meant that we missed the front pack, rather than an inability to swim on my side. So it’s time to pick myself up, learn from my mistakes and hopefully do and show what I’m capable of in Stockholm again!

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© Sophia Saller 2016. All rights reserved. Impressum